It was 1945 at the tail end of World War II. Pvt. McGinley was doing a routine sweep at a farmhouse at the edge of the small German town his company was occupying. His knocks went unanswered, so he opened the door. Even though most of the fighting was well north of the town, he still kept his guard up. The farmhouse was deserted. The cabinets were barren with little food left in the pantry. McGinley surmised that they left when word spread that the Americans were coming. He made his way through the house until he reached the master bedroom. The only furniture that was still in tact was a small vanity piece with a small velvet-covered box. McGinley opened it up. Inside was a small pocket watch with a navy blue face.
Beautiful, he thought to himself. He took it out of the box and admired it in his hands. It glimmered in the sunlight that reflected off the mirror. Satisfied with his treasure, he left the farmhouse otherwise untouched. His unit was waiting for him at the train depot a mile up the road.
“Find anything good, McGinley?” asked Sergeant Jones, McGinley’s commanding officer.
McGinley felt the hard metal timepiece in the pocket of his coat, but shook his head. He wasn’t necessarily afraid of reprimand. A wristwatch wasn’t the most expensive thing he’s seen taken from the Germans, but he felt as if it was a secret and that he must take it with him if he was to keep the watch.
“Hey Gramps?” I asked, holding a small metal tin I had found in one of the many cardboard boxes in my grandfather’s storage room. “What’s in this?”
Gramps slowly got to his knees and shook off the dust off his green trousers. He slowly made his way over to where I was standing.
“My, My.” he said. “I was looking for this very tin twenty years ago. Go ahead, kid. Open it.”
I undid the latch and slowly lifted the lid to reveal an old blue pocket watch. I wiped its dirty glass face and held it too my ear.
“It should. That’s a top quality German watchmaking. I found it during the war.”
“‘Found it,’” I said sarcastically.
“Hey I once saw a man take an entire silver candelabra from a French chateau. I didn’t think anyone was gonna miss a small wristwatch.”
“I guess so,” I said, moving the watch around in my hand.
Gramps moved away from me, rubbing his hands.
“I was going to give it to your father as a wedding present,” he said. “But I lost it when I had to put all my stuff in this goddamn foot locker after the divorce.” He waved his hands over the sea of cardboard around him.
“Well, at least we found it now,” I said, putting it back into the tin. “You could still give it to Dad if you want.”
Gramps shook his head.
“I want you to have it. Not that you care about knowing the time. But it would be a nice thing to display in your apartment.”
“We’ll see. Katy is usually the one who decorates.”
I paused for a moment.
“But thanks. It means a lot.”
Gramps turned around, revealing a smile.
“You’re welcome, kid.”
We put his hands on my shoulder, and, together, we walked out of the storage room and headed downstairs to eat lunch that Katy and my grandmother had prepared.